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Holocaust survivor sees in her story a lesson for today

Eva Schloss, holocaust survivor in Auschwitz and Anne Frank’s step sister, poses for a portrait prior to speaking at the Bankhead Theater in Livermore about her experience during World War II under Nazi Germany. Photo: Alejandro Galicia Diaz

“They [Nazis] wanted to catch every Jew,” Eva Schloss told the packed crowd in Livermore on Feb. 13, speaking about her exiled childhood in Amsterdam. “They made house searches. At night they knocked on doors. People had to open the door and let the Nazis come in their homes and search the houses.”

It was a terrifying experience, which Schloss, now 88, shared with the audience of over 500 people at the Bankhead Theater in Livermore, an event hosted by Chabad of the Tri-Valley to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the publication of Anne Frank’s diary.

Schloss sees some troubling parallels with today’s situation in America.

“Well, I’ve heard very sad news about it, that [President Trump] wants to build a wall,” Schloss told El Tecolote prior to the celebration. “It’s outrageous. When the Russians built the wall in Berlin, the world was outraged, including America. And now suddenly America wants to build a wall. It is something that hopefully will never happen. I think the American people will fight against this, I don’t think they will tolerate that… America is a land of refugees, he should be very happy that he has good people coming from Mexico and from all over the world.”

Schloss’s story begins in March of 1938—when she was still known as Eva Geiringer—on a day that would change her life forever. It was the end of freedom and acceptance that Schloss and her family had enjoyed all of their lives before their native Austria was annexed by Nazi Germany.

With the Nazi invasion, the attitude toward Jews had changed. Schloss recalls that her 12-year-old brother, Heinz, came home from school one day covered in blood and bruises from a beating at the hands of his old friends, as the teacher stood and watched. As a result, the Geiringers decided to move to Belgium and then to the Netherlands in February of 1940. It was there that Schloss would develop a short-lived friendship with Anne Frank from the ages of 11 to 13.

During her time in Amsterdam, both Schloss and Frank played games together, told each other stories and made the best of what they had. However, fear creeped into both families during the Summer of 1942, when about 10,000 young jews (including Heinz and Anne Frank’s sister Margot) received a notice to return to Germany.

The family decided to go into hiding. However, Eva’s father Erich, couldn’t find anyone who would take in all four of the Geiringers in one hideout spot, so the family decided to split up into two pairs. Eva went with her mother, Elfriede, and Heinz with Erich.

“I started to cry, I didn’t want to be separated,” said Schloss. “I was very, very close to my father and my brother. And my father explained, ‘If two of us will be in different places, then the chance that two of us will survive is bigger.’”

Eva and her mother went into hiding in June 1942 for two years, but were forced to move around after several months in one place because their caretakers would panic at the thought of being caught hiding Jews.

The woman who took in both Erich and Heinz, began to blackmail them for more money, prompting Erich to ask his wife to find a new hiding place. Schloss recalls that a Dutch nurse offered help but turned out to be a double-agent. As a result, all four Geiringers were caught in May of 1944. The family were sent to a local prison, Westerbork transit camp, and after a few days, they were deported to the Nazi death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau.

The last time all four Geiringers would be together was inside a cattle cart train being transported to Auschwitz. In the cattle cart, Heinz told his sister that he had hidden paintings he had completed, underneath the floor. He promised his sister that after the war he would return and collect his artwork. Heinz never made it back home. But Eva would collect them after the war.

As they got off the train, Eva’s mother handed her a hat and coat, making Schloss look older than her 15 years and deceiving Nazi doctor, Josef Mengele who was in charge of selecting and deciding who went to the camp and who would be murdered upon arrival.

“When Mengele looked at me, he didn’t see how young I was,” said Schloss about her experience of arriving at Auschwitz and meeting the so-called Angel of Death. “That really saved my life at arrival… It just depended on how you looked, how you felt, so we lost half of our transport. Babies, young children, even 17, 18-year-old girls were sent to the other side (to be murdered) and of course older people…I was 15, and I certainly wouldn’t have passed selection if he had seen who I was. So that was the first miracle.”

The group that survived selection was then taken to the barracks, naked and then were tattooed numbers on their arms for identification purposes.

“We were told, ‘You’re not a human being, you’re like cattle, forget that you have a name,’ then all of our hair was shaved,” said Schloss.

Schloss believes that arriving at Auschwitz was her second miracle because the transports before hers and after, were taken to Treblinka death camp, where there was no selection—everyone was gassed to death.

“I was 15 years old and we had a lovely family life before,” said Schloss, describing what gave her the strength to survive Auschwitz. “I wanted to get married, wanted to have a boyfriend, wanted to have a family, so I just never gave up hope that I would make it. Because when I was 15, I wasn’t ready to die and give up.”

Both Schloss and her mother survived the holocaust as they were liberated by the Russians. They made their way back to Amsterdam where they tried to rebuild their lives. Otto Frank, who had also been deported to Auschwitz and lost his entire family, including his daughter Anne, visited them often. Eventually, Elfriede and Otto Frank were married.

Since then, Schloss has written books, travelled around the world to tell her story and to remind people that division and hatred cannot succeed.

Story by: Alejandro Galicia Diaz